Seventh-day Adventists believe that the person who accepts Christ as Saviour is called to a Christ-like life of spiritual, mental, physical, and relational growth; like the child Jesus to grow “in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:52). The goal of our lives is to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ within the fellowship of the church, His body. As Christian teachers this is not only an aspirational goal but a lifestyle.

Adventist education is about a lifestyle, as schools engender an authentic environment for their students which is to grow or nurture and develop a faith in Jesus. SDA Fundamental Belief Statement 11 is “Growing in Christ,” which states in part, “… Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy, and assurance of His love. Now the Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers us. Continually committed to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we are set free from the burden of our past deeds. No longer do we live in the darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance, and meaninglessness of our former way of life. In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the Church. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience.”

In a recent interview, Cooper said, “Sometimes it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that just because we are a Seventh-day Adventist school where worship happens every day, all is good regarding the spiritual development of the young people. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Teachers and administrators need to have their own walk with God first to lay the foundation for a school that is spiritually alive. With that foundation in place, there is no limit to what can happen in building spiritual relationships if the teacher is intentional about developing a teaching strategy, similar to preparing for the next math or reading lesson.” (Roger L. Dudley, Why Our Teenagers Leave the Church:  Personal Stories From a 10-Year Study (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 2000), p. 35)

So what does discipleship in schools look like in New Zealand? At a recent school special character review, students were asked during student interviews “where do you pray?” The review panel were anticipating a general list of places student would list, however, when various responses from 8-11 years old was “Anywhere”, one gets a holistic picture of discipleship in Adventist schools.

When a recently new enrolling non-Adventist student secondary student asks his allocated buddy student “why is it that school finishes 25 minutes early on Fridays?”, and the response from also a non-Adventist student “because we are to get ready and prepare for the Sabbath” then one gets a holistic picture of discipleship in Adventist schools.

I was part of interviewing Avondale College graduates, and when these 4th Year training teachers share their faith and journey one is impressed how schools and teachers have made a huge impact as to why these former students of Adventist schools want to become teachers. Hearing a student who was a Buddhist when he enrolled in an Adventist school, found Jesus through the influence of his teachers, and made a decision to become a teacher in an Adventist tertiary institution. He was asked by the interviewing panel, “Why do you want to teach in Adventist School?” His response was “I found Jesus in an Adventist school, and made a decision to be baptised during my time at Avondale, now I want to introduce non-Adventist students in Adventist school to Jesus”. From such response, one gets a holistic picture of discipleship in Adventist schools.

A small regional New Zealand School could not find a suitable and appropriate Adventist teacher to fill a teaching vacancy. The tone of the school and the behaviour of students had impressed the teacher to the point that she wanted to find out what made the difference to this particular school. When students articulated and shared Jesus with each other, the teacher realised that she was missing this element in her life. Students witnessing the faith of the non-Adventist Teacher led her to make a decision for baptism to the Adventist church. When students share Jesus with their teachers, one gets a holistic picture of discipleship in Adventist schools.

The concept of discipleship, becoming transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ, is evident in Adventist schools because of the culture of worship, prayer life and witnessing of faith by authentic teachers who are constantly being spirit led.

-Dan C Carrasco, Associate Education Director, Adventist Education New Zealand